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Birdlife confirm first breeding bird of prey in 15 years

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Kestrel chicksBirdLife Malta have announced that following this year’s spring hunting ban, a pair of Common Kestrels has successfully bred and raised at least three chicks in the Maltese islands, the first confirmed successful attempt in 15 years.

BirdLife also released photos and footage showing two of the chicks at the nest, exercising and stretching their wings in preparation for their first flights.

The conservation organisation stated that this was the first confirmed successful breeding record of a bird of prey in Malta since 1994 when a pair of kestrels bred in Comino bird sanctuary. Since then several breeding attempts by kestrels in different locations in Gozo and Malta were recorded but the birds were shot each time. Last year, the first time spring hunting was banned, three young kestrels were also sighted in Gozo, but as the nest was never found, the breeding attempt was recorded as probable.

Over the last few weeks several rare breeding species such as kestrels and Turtle Dove have been observed by BirdLife Malta field workers setting up territories, performing breeding displays and building nests in different part of the islands.

“As a result of the spring hunting ban, many more wild birds migrating over Malta are surviving to continue their journey to European breeding grounds, while as expected some are remaining to breed here,” said Dr Andre Raine, BirdLife Malta Conservation Manager.

BirdLife fieldworkers who have been observing the pair over the last weeks have already recorded shots fired at the male of the pair as it was hunting for food in nearby fields for its young. The male of the pair was yesterday seen with gunshot damage to the wing. In other areas where kestrels have remained into the summer season the organisation received reports of ‘rabbit’ hunters shooting at kestrels as they flew over them.

“The birds that have survived illegal hunting during the closed season this spring and managed to settle into their breeding grounds, thanks to the efforts of the ALE, are now facing another threat. With the opening of the rabbit hunting season on June 1st, poachers are taking advantage of this loophole to illegally shoot Malta’s rare breeding birds,” (1) continued Dr. Raine.

BirdLife called on the Office of the Prime Minister and the police commissioner not to issue any more rabbit hunting licenses and that the ALE presence in the countryside continues through the vulnerable breeding period. The organisation reiterated its demand that a dedicated wildlife crime unit is established to combat these crimes all year round.

Footage of the kestrel chicks can be seen on the BirdLife Malta website – www.birdlifemalta.org.

1. The number of licensed rabbit hunters has soared by over 20% in the last 15 months, coinciding exactly with the first ban on spring hunting in 2008. BirdLife also recently learned that hundreds of new rabbit hunting licenses have been issued by the police over the last couple of weeks. http://birdlifemalta.org/view.aspx?id=180

Photo above: Following the spring hunting ban, for the first time in 15 years Common Kestrels have successfully bred in the Maltese islands. These two chicks are seen here sitting on their nest. Photo by Denis Cachia.

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    1 Response

    1. l. theuma says:

      What would Birdlife pretend? To introduce the rabbit pest in Gozo? Farmers are already complaining that the number of wild rabbits has so increased that they are destroying their crops as soon as planted, causing thousands of euros damage. Rabbit hunting should be encouraged all year around.

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